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Read in Le Figaro: The Jubilee Year When They Wanted to Cancel Beethoven

“Too white, too man, too old …” – under this subtitle, the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro published an article that rebuffs the attacks on Beethoven by those who call the great composer a symbol of discrimination and elitism in classical music. We are reprinting this article with some abbreviations.

Should Beethoven be canceled? This is not the name of the future play by the humorist Gaspard Proust (very popular in France – Approx. Ed .). This is a question that was raised in all seriousness on December 25 in the independent Cambridge University newspaper Varsity. A strange Christmas present for a composer whose 250th birthday was celebrated ten days earlier. However, in 2020, when the author of the “Ninth Symphony” was to be honored all over the world, everything did not go as planned. And the health crisis was not the only grain of sand that stopped the car.

In addition to the fact that most of the events planned for the past year, including the Beethoven Festival in his hometown of Bonn, have been canceled since autumn, there has been a lively debate in the English-speaking community that he is “too white, too male, too old”. The author of “Elise”, “Moonlight Sonata”, “Odes to Joy”, and these works are among the most famous examples of classical music, has become for some a symbol of a culture that promotes the superiority of the white race, men and conservatism.

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Fournier recalls that “The Fifth Symphony is a clot of musical energy against fascism.” “After all, it is no coincidence that the beginning of this work became the leitmotif of Radio London – the radio station of the French Resistance (broadcast from the British capital in 1940-44 – Approx. Ed. ), he says. “And an excerpt from the Ninth sounds every time the victory of peace and freedom is celebrated.” not serious. ”“ This campaign is yet another product of an extravagant ideology, ”the musicologist believes. – I see two points here. The desire to overthrow the idols of that era of heroes at any cost, one of which was Beethoven – a symbol of the strength of the spirit of a person who overcame the drama of his deafness. This is the first thing. And the second is the alarming evolution of musicology towards applied sociology, which runs counter to a rigorous scientific approach in this area. “

This trend has certainly been accelerated by the Black Lives Matter movement. An example of this is the call to “decolonize music”, which was made in Cambridge in the above-mentioned letter, signed by hundreds of individuals. In it, they “denounced racism in the study and interpretation of Western music.” They insist that racism “is a chronic problem generated by the culture of classical music itself,” leading to the exclusion of non-white composers.

the impact that no bastion has any protection from it. Even the Beethoven House in Bonn, this temple, erected in honor of the composer, could not resist. In February of last year, it was the German pianist Charlotte Seiter who criticized the ubiquitous Beethoven as a reflection of the world “where male creativity is idealized” and thinks in “categories of domination.”

However, such fabrications have appeared before. An example of this is the analysis of the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, carried out in the late 1980s by the feminist Susan McClary. She presented it as a “rape scene”. “This is a real scandal,” said Bernard Fournier, who happened to take part in a colloquium, where a tough verbal scuffle arose around this topic.

“Music in itself does not mean anything, and I absolutely do not see how it can be associated with violence,” the expert was indignant. “If we look at the opera” Fidelio “, it is not Florestan there, but Leonora in men’s clothing. the warden and frees his beloved. Even then, ahead of his time, Beethoven was a feminist! ” And yet this serious question remains: why, 250 years after his birth, Beethoven got into the center of public debate, and even so that he became the most cited composer in 2020 on the SoClassiq Internet platform. Bernard Fournier has an answer to this: “Regardless of the era, he is our contemporary. This is the main thing that can be said about Beethoven.”